It’s all fun, music and games at “The Elements”

The Royal Opera House Muscat, Opera Galleria and Maidan were alive with the sounds of activity on Saturday, November 24 between 10am and 5pm for the first Open Day of the season. Subtitled, “The Elements”, there were free creative workshops in various arts and crafts, sounds and music for children aged over six, culminating in an open mic performance and exhibitions. Taking centre stage – literally and metaphorically – came the Lunch Music concert from a quartet of artists from the Opéra de Lyon’s forthcoming production of Strauss’, ‘Eine Nacht in Venedig’.
Beginning in the beautiful, large foyer inside the Opera House, Omani craftsman, Mohammed Bani Uraba, in collaboration with the Public Authority for Craft Industries (PACI), was teaching children aged nine and above the local skill of Palm Leaf craft, transforming native leaves into flags, animals, tissue boxes, purses, key-rings and other impressive artefacts.
In the East Porch a curiously named, School of Noise’ allowed parents and children to explore the fascinating world of sound and music. Flown in especially from England for the day, music physicist, Dan Mayfield shared the learning of the ‘science of sound’ through amplified sounds of fruit, playing a ‘Theremin’, observing Chladni patterns (on vibrating plates) in sand and using other sound sculpting machines.
In the South Porch Elena Punzi and her team from the ROHM Technical Department were discovering how everyday objects can produce sounds by building musical instruments with recycled materials. Children were making ‘balloon bassoons’, wooden guitars, shakers and drums to form an environmentally aware Junk Band.
Upstairs, opera composer, Omar Shahryar from UK was teaching children and their parents the basic elements of song-writing. In one activity the group utilised recording loops of simple ideas to build up layers of the most richly textured compositions using voice and body percussion.
Outside in the Maidan, regular participant at Open House, Ernesto Raym led his popular ‘Drum Circle’ improvised rhythm workshop, for children over eight and adults alike.
An Art competition, open to all schools throughout the Sultanate, invited students under 13 to create artwork representing the seven ‘Musical Elements’. Over eight hundred pieces were submitted and a selected sample, reflecting extraordinary Picasso-esque skills, were displayed in an Exhibition in Opera Galleria – a tribute to the talents and abilities of pupils and art teachers alike in Oman. There was also an electro-Minerals Exhibit, presented by graduates from the Earth Science Department at Sultan Qaboos University, Face Painting for all ages and Drawing in different galleries, spread throughout the building.
At lunchtime, a Grand Piano was set upon a pop-up stage and chairs were provided for anyone who cared to listen and enjoy the one-hour taster of Johann Strauss’s comic operetta, ‘Eine Nacht in Venedig’. English Soprano, Caroline MacPhie introduced the context of, “Ihr Venetianer”, a bizarre spoof of an Italian chef, Papagoda, singing in German. Entering from above via the escalator, it was sung amusingly in his rich, warm baritone register by the native German speaker, Bonko Karadjov. Caroline herself was more serious as a seafood vendor in, “ Frutti di Mare”, and her lyrical performance was delightfully seductive. Together with beautiful ensemble singing, they ripped into each other in a right domestic parody in, “Annina! Caramello!”.
All this was accompanied on the Grand by the modest Welshman, Graham Lilly, and he had a chance to shine with French violinist, Nicolas Gourbeix, in an extract from Tchaikovsky’s lyrical Romantic waltz, “Souvenir d’un Lieu Cher”.
“Vilya’s Song” from Franz Léhar’s, ‘Merry Widow’ is a favourite chestnut, and Caroline MacPhie did it pure justice in her impossibly high register – sung in English, so the audience could immediately grasp its meaning. Short but equally humorous and warm in tone came Bonko’s rendition of “Dunkelrote Rosen” from Carl Millöcker’s ‘Gasparone’. A revisit to “A Night in Venice” gave scope for some miming and dancing in the Duet, “Schwipps-Lied”, performed with perfect characterisation by the flirting couple. Surely this was bait enough to attend the full performance in the theatre auditorium on 29th and 30th November.
In contrast to the operatic drama came Nicolas Gourbeix’ second spot; two famous melodies from Fritz Kreisler’s, ‘Alt Wiener Tanzweisen’. The deliciously lovely, ‘Liebesleid’ was performed beautifully with Graham Lilly while ‘Schöne Rosmarin’ was more virtuosic, always with perfect intonation. Bonko Karadjov’s return to the platform heard him sing the heart-felt, “Es muss etwas Wunderbares Sein” from Ralph Benatzk’s comic, ‘Im Weißn Rössl’ to a chosen admirer, while “Im Chambre Séparée” from Heuberger’s ‘Der Opernball’ was beautifully and sincerely declared in German by Ms MacPhie.
The endearing, “Will you Remember” Duet, sung in English from Sigmund Romberg’s ‘Maytime’ was delightful and touching, followed by the gypsy ‘Czardas’ fiddle solo, which was beautifully executed with an equally tricky piano part, by Gourbeix and Lilly. Rudolph Sieczyński’s rich, chromatic harmony in, “Wien, Wien nur du allein” sounded for all the world like a Lehar waltz, and demanded great dynamic control from both singers.
Finally, no better encore could have been wished for than the beloved romantic waltz, “Die Lippen Schweigen” (I love you) from Lehar’s ‘Merry Widow’ which included a violin obligato. It sent the audience away literally humming and singing its evocative melody, eagerly awaiting the delights in store in next weekend’s operetta production from France.

Story by Georgina benison
Photos by Khalid al Busaidi